Antenatal care is a form of primary health care. Its main purpose is to offer early checkups for expectant mothers which help midwives or doctors to detect and prevent potentially dangerous health conditions throughout the pregnancy.
It also aims to improve mother and baby’s chances of survival and reduce the risks of preterm delivery or SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). This form of health care is sometimes referred to as prenatal care. It is a combination of prenatal care and postnatal care.
The latter covers the period after the child is born and can last anywhere from 24 hours to six months. Prenatal care is usually offered by the obstetrician or gynaecologist. The aim of antenatal or prenatal care is to detect any medical condition that might pose a threat to the life or health of a child during the early stages of pregnancy.
A medical condition may arise in a woman even before she conceives
For example, if a woman suffers from hypertension or diabetes her doctor might recommend that she check her blood pressure at least once a week until she becomes pregnant. Some conditions that are detected during antenatal visits include
- High blood pressure
- Preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension), which are common among expectant mothers
It also screens for congenital anomalies and chromosomal abnormalities and provides diagnostic tests for many other conditions, such as
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
It also screens for nutritional deficiencies that could affect the development of a baby’s brain
Certain health conditions like hypertension and diabetes can be detected only through ultrasound. Ultrasound detects blood flow throughout the body, especially in the vessels and arteries of the heart, to give a picture of the blood circulation within the body.
Blood clots are usually found between the veins and arteries of the heart and usually cause heart attacks or strokes. Pregnant women with high blood pressure have an increased risk of having a preterm delivery, as their arteries may narrow due to the accumulation of blood clots in their vessels and arteries.
Pregnant women suffering from diabetes are at an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes and pregnancy complications, as these complications can be caused by high levels of sugar in the bloodstream.
Gestational diabetes can be diagnosed during an ultrasound scan and treated by lifestyle changes or insulin injections. Pregnant women with diabetes need to monitor their blood glucose levels to ensure that they don’t become too low, so their doctor can prescribe specific medications to lower the level and avoid hypoglycemic effects.
Gestational diabetes is not an illness that is detectable during antenatal care. It is, however, a condition that is present even before pregnancy and it is usually diagnosed when a woman has passed the 12th week of her pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman’s blood glucose level is too high even during times when there is no need for pregnancy. The condition causes frequent
- Urination and painful urination,
- Loss of appetite
- Blurred vision
- Abdominal pain
Gestational diabetes usually appears when the baby is around nine to ten weeks and affects the expectant mother’s overall health because the body is unable to use glucose properly. If left untreated gestational diabetes can lead to
- Kidney failure
- Heart failure
- Kidney damage
This type of diabetic condition should be diagnosed right away in the early stages to avoid complications and premature labour. Infants born with gestational diabetes usually need treatment with insulin, oral glucose substitutes and other medications to improve their glucose levels.
There are some cases in which gestational diabetes doesn’t develop until after the baby is born or when he or she is premature. In this case, a glucose meter is used to monitor glucose levels at home. There are some medical treatment options available if the baby has a condition such as a ketoacidosis, hyperglycemia or cystic fibrosis.
When these conditions are diagnosed early, doctors can help to treat them so that the baby doesn’t need to be hospitalized and the risk of causing fetal harm is decreased.
Gestational diabetes is more common in overweight women, but pregnant women who are underweight do not always need to be concerned about it. A simple test can determine the level of glucose in their blood and recommend appropriate diet and lifestyle changes that can prevent the condition from worsening.
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